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The Secrets of Jamaica Bay
By Rich Johnson

I receive many inquiries as to the action of Jamaica Bay. If any of our readers have followed my television show over the years, then you know I make many trips into Jamaica Bay each season, some actually to work with television crew in tow, but most just for fun. Action here is phenomenal and while we know Jamaica Bay is an extensive area, I’d like to break down the species anglers can fish for and the most opportune times to do so.

FLOUNDER. Jamaica Bay has a long-standing reputation as one of the better spring flounder areas and for good reason. The large, expansive bay heats up quicker than other areas and flounder perk up with this warming trend. Flounder are caught right through June in the “bay,” till they make way for Rockaway Inlet and the Tin Can Grounds off Breezy Point when waters are too warm, around the end of May into June. The season starts between the Cross Bay Bridge and the trestle for the city's subway A-Line, which is the Broad Channel area of Jamaica Bay. You'll find party boats from Sheepshead Bay and Smitty’s rental skiffs fishing here and up into the back of JFK Airport near Head of the Bay towards Norton Point & Mott Creek. Here it's big flounder, all jumbo females after the spawn. Other hot areas consist of Ruffle Bar, Pumpkin Patch and Floyd Bennett Field. These same areas produce right away when the fall flounder season opens September 15.

STRIPED BASS. While flounder are still jumping into the pails of local J-Bay anglers, stripers make their way through the inlet about the middle of April and become a nuisance to flounder fishermen. There are numerous schoolies and quite a few keepers caught in this area from spring right through to December. This action continues on a torrid pace through May & June. I've had days in May where acres upon acres of schoolie bass invade Jamaica Bay. From the Marine Parkway Bridge, all the way back to the radar piers just off the JFK runways is unbelievable springtime fishing. We've caught bass from the trestle bridge standing on Smitty's dock using poppers or bucktails and tins, fly rods and worms, drifting, trolling or at anchor are all effective ways to catch stripers here.

Bass are trolled on parachute jigs or caught on live bunker behind JFK and the radar piers, or near the channel bridges until waters warm and they head back towards Breezy Point and the inlet. It's then the great chunk fishing takes place in Rockaway Inlet in late June, July & August. As summer progresses, it becomes a nocturnal ritual until waters cool with the shorter days and longer nights of fall and the migration begins.

BLUEFISH. Not long after stripers arrive, one of the true staples of Jamaica Bay the last few years...bluefish, maraud the entire area on a relentless mission to seek & destroy. Around the beginning of May, these saltwater piranhas provide plenty of excitement for anglers wetting a line for flounder or bass, and many stories of flounder or weakfish being chopped in half are quite true. Early on it's the big brutes of 10 pounds or better and then the smaller cocktail blues arrive.

When chasing birds in Jamaica Bay, you'll encounter pods of blues or bass and sometimes a mixture of the two. Recently though it's been one or the other, again chasing small white bait so prevalent here. This run & gun action occurs anywhere from the Marine Parkway Bridge, north towards Mill Basin, Canarsie and back east to JFK Airport. It can happen anytime...anywhere and experienced anglers know to carry a spinning rod and diamond jigs with them at all times, no matter what they're fishing for. Summer action for BIG blues comes on bunker chunks at night from boat, near the Cross Bay or Marine Parkway Bridge.

FLUKE. While Jamaica Bay fluking is known for getting a late start when compared to Jones Inlet or Captree, Jamaica Bay does get her fair share of action. Summer flattie fishing gets going with a few sporadic fluke in the beginning of the season, but by Memorial Day, things are generally in full swing. Some very impressive fluke to 9 pounds or better are taken each spring and the amount of bait, from grass shrimp to snappers, is what keeps these doormats happy and looking for an easy meal. Areas to look are the Silver Hole, the Floyd Bennett Field area, Mill basin and any of the flats of the entire estuary as these fluke chase bait up into skinny water. Spearing, squid, bay anchovies or killies are all ambushed by summer flounder.

WEAKFISH. Unless you've been living underground the last three years, you must know by now, Jamaica Bay is exploding with weakfish action. They arrive late in May, start slowly and build in numbers until they bite like crazy from mid-July to the end of September and into early October, depending on weather and conditions. Whole sandworms is the name of the game here day or night and bunker chunks still get a few true, tiderunners for local sharpies after dark. The action runs from the Marine Parkway Bridge, Floyd Bennett Field, Mill Basin & Canarsie, right back to Buoy 19 at the northeast corner of the Silver Hole. The entire bay has seen fantastic weakfishing the last few years as this cyclical species is on the rebound.

BLUE CLAW CRABS. In normal years, when spring is sunny & warm, these tasty crustaceans start showing towards the end of May, just about the time weakfish do. The best crabbing takes place on a full moon in July, August & September from around the grass and mud flats of the entire J-Bay area using killie rings or traps. Scooping them from bridges or at night using a lantern can be fast & furious! Jimmy from Smitty's is considered a local crabbing expert and relies heavily on sight scooping crabs from the bridges.

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